Italians make some of the most amazing chocolate! From Torino in the northwest, which has introduced the world to the magic combination of chocolate and hazelnuts in Nutella and Gianduia; to the “chocolate valley” west of Florence which houses small producers like Amadei, Roberto Catinari & Luca Mannori; through the hills of Umbria which gave the world Perugina Baci from the town of Perugia; and all the way down to the town of Modica in Sicily, which has been making spicy chocolate since the 1600’s, when the Spanish introduced chocolate making from the Aztecs – Italy has made a huge impact on the world’s chocolate offerings!
Our culinary tours of Italy wouldn’t be complete without sharing with our clients the best chocolate each region has to offer. In Piedmont we visit Torino and sip on biscerin, a special melted chocolate and coffee drink available only in the heart of the city. Even on a warm June day, this thick and smooth drink, served with a dollop of whipped cream, is a welcome pick-me-up.
Piedmont is also known for inventing the brilliant marriage of the best of two ingredients: hazelnuts from the south of Piedmont and chocolate from Torino. The availability of beautifully foil wrapped gianduia can be overwhelming and is widely available in the candy stores, bars and cafes of the city.
There are many chocolate makers who began in Piedmont, Venchi, Ferrero and Caffarel among them, and their products are available in lots of US stores as Ferrero Roche and Mon Cheri’.
The delicious flavor combination of hazelnuts and chocolate influenced the makers of Perugina chocolates in Umbria when they invented Baci over one hundred years ago. The Italian version of a Hershey kiss, Baci comes beautifully wrapped in silver and blue foil and includes a saying about love in four different languages, Italian and English among them (I’ve noticed lately the fourth language is often Chinese, which tells you something).
Baci are perfect to give a loved one for Valentines Day!
Venchi is a wonderful chocolatier which got their start in Torino but has in the last few years really made a splash in other cities like Bologna and Florence with gorgeous little stores in major tourist areas. They offer a wide array of chocolates and some of the best dark chocolate (fondente) gelato I’ve ever had! Be sure to stop in a Venchi store whenever you see one!
There are a lot of smaller, less well known chocolatiers, many of them producing small batch chocolates in the valley between Florence and Pisa, so be on the lookout when you’re in Italy and taste them!
The history of chocolate in Modica in Sicily is interesting because it highlights the different cultures that had an affect on Italy over the centuries. Spain owned both Sicily and southern Italy between the mid 1500’s and the early 1800’s and they introduced many important foods from the New World, including the tomato and chocolate from the Aztecs. The chocolate produced in Modica is more granular because it contains less fat, and typically has more spices like vanilla, cinnamon and cayenne pepper added.
Happy Valentines Day! We hope that you will find some delicious Italian chocolates to share with your loved one! Here’s a great recipe for crepes filled with Nutella!